The ancient spice that tackles a modern-day plague: Chronic inflammation

It’s true that some inflammation in the body is good because it helps protect and heal from injury. But what’s not so good is when the body is in a constant state of low-grade inflammation.

This is what’s known as chronic inflammation — and it’s been linked to a host of health problems, including heart disease, autoimmune diseases, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.

There’s also evidence that chronic inflammation is linked with obesity and depression. This has prompted researchers to explore potential solutions that directly target inflammation in people with these diseases.

And a Japanese study indicates a long-used ancient anti-inflammatory spice could help with these modern-day problems…

Turmeric helps with mood as well as weight loss

While acute inflammation has been the subject of much research, chronic low-grade inflammation — considered to be related to aging, obesity and an unhealthy lifestyle — hasn’t been as clearly defined until recently.

The Japanese study involved 90 healthy but overweight subjects between 50 and 69 years old. Each was randomly assigned to take either two capsules containing a total of 970 milligrams of turmeric extract or a placebo daily for 12 weeks.

The researchers measured their weight and blood inflammatory markers every four weeks, and participants took two mental health-related questionnaires at four-week intervals during the study.

What did they find?

In addition to significantly lower body weight and body mass index (BMI), the group taking the turmeric extract had significantly lower blood levels of two inflammatory markers, including C-reactive protein, than the placebo group.

And another big plus… upon being surveyed, the participants taking turmeric also showed marked improvement in overall mental health and anger-hostility scores.

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Researchers conclude that not only do turmeric extracts appear to help ease chronic low-grade inflammation, they also seem to improve mental health and mood disturbance.

“Mental health problems and mood disturbances are known to be associated with not only systemic inflammation but also neuroinflammation,” the researchers note, adding that brain macrophages, or microglial cells, play a central role in neuroinflammation by releasing inflammatory cytokines that lead to the production of IDO. This enzyme causes the degradation of the amino acid tryptophan used in the production of melatonin and serotonin.

“In the present study, dietary supplementation with Curcuma longa extract (CLE) improved mental health and negative mood state, suggesting that these improvements could be related in part to inhibition of microglial activation in the central nervous system,” the researchers say. “Future studies need to investigate the effect of CLE on human microglial activation.”

Turmeric’s many health benefits

Turmeric has long been used in traditional Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine to treat skin problems, digestive disorders, upper respiratory tract issues and joint disorders.

In recent years, scientists have been exploring the health benefits of turmeric’s active ingredient, curcumin. And many of their studies have clearly shown turmeric’s anti-inflammatory capabilities in areas like brain health, enlarged prostate, liver health and muscle soreness related to exercise.

Clearly, turmeric is something you should be consuming if you want to tame chronic inflammation. But be careful to do it properly — as a fat-soluble compound, curcumin is difficult for the body to absorb and use.

If you take a curcumin supplement, make sure it also contains piperine, a compound present in black pepper, to increase its bioavailability. And try taking the supplement with a healthy fat like avocado or olive or coconut oil, which further helps your body absorb the curcumin.

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Sources:

1. Curcuma longa extract improves serum inflammatory markers and mental health in healthy participants who are overweight: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial — Nutrition Journal

2. IDO: more than an enzyme — Nature Immunology

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Carolyn Gretton

By Carolyn Gretton

Carolyn Gretton is a freelance writer based in New Haven, CT who specializes in all aspects of health and wellness and is passionate about discovering the latest health breakthroughs and sharing them with others. She has worked with a wide range of companies in the alternative health space and has written for online and print publications like Dow Jones Newswires and the Philadelphia Inquirer.